Moise Kean's magnificent momentum and Pep Guardiola's quadrophobia: Uefa Champions League talking points
Ian Hawkey looks ahead to the quarter-final, first leg ties taking place this week
Moise’s Magnificent Momentum
Cristiano Ronaldo has every chance of being fit for Wednesday’s trip to Ajax, Juventus manager Max Allegri has reassured supporters of the Italian champions.
“Cristiano always feels ready,” said Allegri after Saturday’s 2-1 win over AC Milan took Juve to within touching distance of an eighth successive league title. “But I explained to him I was going to rest him at the weekend.”
The precaution followed Ronaldo’s pulled hamstring while on international duty with Portugal at the end of March. And it was a precaution, given Juve’s huge lead of Napoli at the top the table, Allegri could take without risk. Not least because, in very swift time, he has discovered another prolific finisher in his ranks.
Moise Kean, who turned 19 in February, is timing his breakthrough as a senior professional brilliantly. His match-winner, from off the bench, against Milan took his tally to five goals in five Serie A games, only two of those as part of the starting XI.
Add to that Kean’s first two goals for Italy in his first pair of competitive internationals and it has been quite a month for a young man who had only played two minutes of Serie A football between August and March.
Inevitably, there are comparisons with the rapid rise of Kylian Mbappe, who, two seasons ago, as an 18 year-old and only just establishing himself in the Monaco team, propelled his club to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
In Amsterdam, Kean might have a chance to measure himself directly against another prodigy, the Dutch defender Matthijs De Ligt, also 19 and identified as a possible future recruit by Juventus.
Leo and Luis, Late Goal Specialists
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United’s manager, was in the stands at Camp Nou on Saturday. It hardly needs repeating that Barcelona’s home ground has a special place in his heart, Solskjaer having scored the last-gasp goal that completed a surreal comeback from 1-0 down against Bayern Munich to win United the fabled 1999 Champions League final.
Solskjaer suspects he will need something unexpected, something special to happen if he is to emerge victorious from his first joust with Barcelona as a manager and he may feel wiser from his spying trip ahead of Wednesday’s Manchester leg of the quarter-final. He watched Barcelona kept at bay by Atletico Madrid for 84 minutes, an achievement given that Atletico were playing with 10 men, after Diego Costa’s red card, for 58 of those minutes.
In the event, Barcelona have all but wrapped up their eighth Liga title in 11 seasons, now 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico. Once more, Solskjaer saw the value of late goals in Catalonia. This pair came from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who, for the second time in a week, both struck in the last ten minutes to gain points for the Spanish champions-elect.
“Almost impossible.” That’s the latest prognosis by Pep Guardiola on the likelihood of Manchester City achieving the so-called ‘Quadruple’ by the end of the season. City moved a step closer to adding a domestic Cup to the League Cup they have already won with a 1-0 win over Brighton in the FA Cup semi-final.
The prospects of triumph in the tougher competitions, the Premier League and Champions League, hinge now on how they get on in what you might call their Tottenham Treble.
In the space of 11 days City face Spurs three times, with the first leg of their Champions quarter-final at Tottenham’s new stadium on Tuesday, the return in Manchester on April 17th and a meeting in the league, where City are second - two points behind Liverpool but with a game in hand - the following Saturday.
Intense? “Surviving to this stage of all the competitions is already a miracle,” reckons Guardiola, “and I will announce something: Winning the quadruple is almost impossible. Almost. Put it in the headlines.”
Porto’s unhappy precedents
Porto have not won in England on their 18 visits. Encouragingly, it might seem, they managed a goalless draw the last time they went to Anfield, where they return on Tuesday.
However, that stalemate was the second leg of last year’s last-16 Champions League tie, in which Liverpool had won the first leg 5-0.
More bad news for Porto is that Pepe, the veteran defender brought in to add to steel to the defence, is suspended.
Updated: April 8, 2019 08:59 AM